Expanding on The Black Experience

Spotlight / Shoot Spotlight
Willie B. Thomas
Adrian Octavius Walker
Feb 27, 2024
In an era where visual media plays a significant role in shaping societal narratives, dissecting the representation of different communities is crucial. Recent research reveals intriguing insights into how Black Americans are portrayed visually and sheds light on their preferences, challenges, and aspirations. VisualGPS research tells us that brands care about showing the importance of Black fellowship: Popular visuals featuring Black people tend to revolve around the concept of community moreso than visuals featuring people overall (9.8% vs. 6.9%). However, a striking 62% of visuals exclusively featuring Black people showcase just one person, indicating potential gaps in depicting the diverse and communal nature of Black communities.
Offering unique perspectives
We know filling gaps in these depictions is crucial because VisualGPS shows that when it comes to corporate acknowledgment, 87% of Black Americans appreciate the fact of acknowledging their challenges. This highlights the potential impact of inclusive visual representation in fostering the understanding and connection with diverse audiences. That’s why we are highlighting these images from creators like Martine Severin, Raymond Abercrombie, Willie B. Thomas, and Amber N. Ford, who provide a unique perspective on Black life by incorporating elements like:
  • The Black American religious tradition which calls in presidential candidates1 and tourists alike, yet less than 1% of popular visuals of Black people are set in a church.  
  • Black hair traditions which are, in fact, an art form and have been for many generations. The recently passed Crown Act2 solidifies federal protections from discrimination of natural/protective hairstyles, yet only 1.4% of popular visuals of Black people feature braided hair. 
  • Media like High on the Hog3 which shine a much‑needed light on the Black American culinary tradition as a powerful symbol of cultural identity (hence the term "soul food"), but no images of soul food appear in popular visuals of Black people from 2023. 

Reshaping visual narratives
The depiction of Black Americans is evolving but still presents opportunities and challenges. Understanding these visual narratives and societal perspectives is crucial for fostering inclusivity, empathy, and a more accurate portrayal of the Black American experience's rich tapestry. Given the majority of Americans (56%) believe it is important to trust an image is authentic, it is imperative for content creators, corporations, and society at large to actively engage in reshaping visual narratives to reflect the diversity, aspirations, and challenges of Black communities during Black History Month and beyond. 
[1] AP News
[2] NBC News
[3] The New York Times
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